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4/30/2018 | 2 MINUTE READ

Augmented Reality on the Shop Floor: Remote Servicing

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A confluence of increased power and capabilities in the hardware and software that drive augmented reality are pushing to make it mainstream in 2018. How could it help your company?

First, let’s define some terms. Augmented reality is not where users completely immerse themselves in a completely digitally fabricated world via reality-blocking goggles. That’s virtual reality. Along the mixed reality spectrum, anchored on opposite ends by physical reality on the far left and digital reality—think 360° videos—on the far right, augmented reality sits towards the middle, adding virtual elements to physical environs.

According to Scott Montgomerie, co-founder and CEO of Scope AR, a San Francisco-based creator of augmented reality software founded in 2011, augmented reality is in the middle of a step change that could make it more mainstream than ever before.

In a factory, augmented reality would use the camera on smart glasses, a smartphone or a tablet to scan the equipment within its view and add digital markers once the machinery is recognized. This could allow a technician to see what parts need to be replaced, for example, and how they’re removed. Alternatively, a remote technician could view the same camera image from his or her own smart device and mark up the screen, directing the worker in front of the piece of equipment to take action from afar. With video calling, that latter scenario could happen today but minus a key element.

“The differentiator with every other video call is that we’re tracking the augmented reality coordinates of the technician and allowing you to annotate on the world of the technician,” Montgomerie says. “So if you’re looking at a particular machine and you need to hit a series of switches or buttons, you can actually draw or add arrows on top of those switches and they’ll see marks in the real world. They can walk around it in three dimensions, and it’s like you’re drawing on the real world.”

And those drawings stick. If a remote technician marked up a specific button on the control panel of a molding machine, and then the individual servicing the press walked around the entire machine, when they came back to the control, the digital marker would still be there through the view of the connected device.

Scope AR has undertaken case studies, including with plastics processors, that test its augmented reality service-call offering dubbed Remote AR, against Skype, finding that augmented reality sped up the maintenance process by at least 30% over standard video calls.

“Skype would be like having somebody standing behind you while you’re doing a particular task, and he’s telling you what to do but his hands are tied behind his back, so he can’t actually show you what to do,” Montgomerie says. “With our technology, not only are the experts’ hands untied, and he can show you what to do, but he’s also got a magic 3D marker that can make marks in thin air or on top of equipment for you. So it’s just a much more efficient way of explaining and illustrating how to solve problems with machines and an expert technician.”

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